INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s too early to tell whether the Indianapolis Colts are finished, again, after a fourth consecutive 0-2 start.
But they’re 0-2, again, because they couldn’t finish against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
They couldn’t make enough plays – on offense, on defense, on special teams – to protect a 10-point fourth quarter lead. There were just enough mistakes to sabotage a yeoman’s afternoon by the defense and a should-have-been-good-enough outing by Jacoby Brissett, thrust into a starter’s role with a condensed playbook and two weeks to learn it.
Arizona 16, Colts 13 in overtime. Phil Dawson’s 30-yard field goal at the 8:02 mark of OT won it, but Indy did plenty to lose it.
If we’ve learned anything from these Colts, it’s that their margin for error is so razor thin they can ill afford to have seven second-half penalties, five in the fourth quarter.
The overall roster isn’t sound enough that the defense can play well for long stretches – it limited the explosive Cardinals to 219 yards and 3 points through three quarters – only to yield Carson Palmer’s 45-yard laser touchdown to J.J. Nelson and Dawson’s 40-yard field goal on Arizona’s first two fourth-quarter possessions.
And they’re not good enough, even taking Brissett’s limited experience into account, to settle into a 13-3 lead at the 11:42 mark of the fourth quarter and finish the game thusly: punt, punt, punt, dagger interception.
“You’ve got to finish games and we didn’t do that,’’ Chuck Pagano said.
Failing to do so made history repeat itself. The Colts squandered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead for just the second time since Pagano’s arrival in 2012, but each has come in the last 11 months. Remember leading the Texans 23-9 with 7 minutes to play in Houston in October, only to fall 26-23 in OT?
“We’ve got to finish,’’ Pagano said. “We’ve got to make plays.’’
The Colts are 0-2 for a fourth consecutive season – Pagano now is 2-10 in the first two weeks of a season since ’12 which is the longest stretch of season-opening futility in more than a quarter-century (at least 0-2 from 1985-91). A footnote: Andrew Luck was 2 at the time.
Sunday’s outcome was light years better than the opening 37-point embarrassment at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams, but it offered no consolation.
“There are no moral victories,’’ Pagano said. “We are 0-2. It is what it is.
“We’ll find a way to win a game.’’
A suggestion: Quit finding a way to lose it.
The most glaring mistake Sunday came 13 seconds into an overtime that was forced when Dawson pushed a 42-yarder wide right as regulation time expired. He had knocked down the potential game-winner, only to have it negated by Pagano icing him with a pre-snap timeout.
The incredible emotional shift was short-lived.
On the first play of overtime, Brissett stared down Kamar Aiken and Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu undercut the route for the interception.
“I saw it as soon as I let it go,’’ said Brissett, given his third career start after Scott Tolzien’s ineffective performance against the Rams. “You know, a dumb decision. You can’t make those type of plays, especially down the stretch when you need it most. Then I left it behind him.
“You know, it was just a bad play all around. I take credit for that and I just have to know, which I do know, make a better decision.’’
Brissett provided a much-needed boost, even while following a condensed game plan.
“I felt like we had what we needed to give us a chance to win the game,’’ Pagano said.
The first two drives staked the Colts to a 10-0 lead with Frank Gore’s 5-yard run off the blocks of Jack Mewhort and Joe Haeg capping a 14-play, 53-yard drive and Adam Vinatieri finishing an 8-play, 32-yard possession with a 46-yard field goal.
The Tolzien-to-Brissett upgrade was most evident on third down. After Tolzien went 0-for-10 against the Rams, Brissett was 4-of-6 in the first quarter alone. The Colts finished 8-of-18.
But in keeping with the game’s trend, the offense was unable to finish at a critical juncture. Early in the fourth quarter, Brissett’s 15-yard completion to tight end Jack Doyle gave the Colts a first-and-goal at the 7. The drive stalled and Vinatieri cleaned things up with a 29-yard field goal.
“In tight games like this, which most of them are, you’ve got to put teams away,’’ Pagano said. “You’ve got to score touchdowns in the red area.’’
Instead of facing a 17-3 deficit, the Cardinals were within 13-3.
Over the final 11-plus minutes, they made the necessary plays. The Colts didn’t.
“Football is a 60-minute game and if you don’t play the full 60 minutes, bad things are going to happen,’’ linebacker John Simon said.
On third-and-20 at his own 18 with 8 minutes to play, Palmer hooked up with Jaron Brown for 22 yards. Another 15 yards was added to the play when Jabaal Sheard was penalized for roughing Palmer.
Palmer’s 45-yard TD to Nelson came on the next snap.
“We gave up some big plays later in the game and they cost us,’’ Simon said.
Offensively, the Colts did nothing after Vinatieri’s chip-shot gave them the 13-3 lead: four possessions, 11 plays, 30 yards, one first down, two penalties.
“You have to finish,’’ Gore said. “It’s all about winning. It ain’t about last week we get blown out and this week we lose by 3. We lost, so we’ve got to find a way to get a win.
“Almost-win, that’s not going to get you into the playoffs. We’ve got to find a way.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.